Tower Hamlets contains a wide variety of wildlife habitats, including woodland, grassland, rivers, ponds, canals and “wasteland”: The latter is the term usually given to the flower-rich, open habitats that often develop on disused industrial sites, and it is far from waste in wildlife terms. The Biodiversity Action Plan divides these habitats up by the different types of land use where they occur: gardens and grounds; parks and other formal open space; rivers and standing water; and the built environment. For more information on the places which hold the best examples of some of these habitats, check out the section on where to see wildlife.
Gardens and Grounds
This includes private gardens, communal gardens on housing estates, allotments, community gardens, and institutional grounds such as those of schools and businesses. These can provide a variety of different habitats for native plants and animals such as ponds, hedges, log piles, shrubberies, wildflower meadows and trees. They are widespread and together make up about 28% of the total land use in the Borough, about two and a half times the area offered by our official parks and open spaces. Many of these areas are currently of low habitat value but with active involvement of landowners and the public, they can become a rich network of green corridors for biodiversity to expand and flourish.
Parks, squares and burial grounds
Parks, squares, burial grounds and other urban green spaces are immensely important to the residents and workers of Tower Hamlets, providing opportunities to spend time out of doors, in contact with the natural world as represented by birds, grassland, trees, butterflies, flowers and aquatic life. Tower Hamlets Council manages about 140 parks scattered across the Borough, varying in size from the largest, Victoria Park at 86 hectares, down to one of the smallest, York Square at 0.09 hectares. We have 236 hectares of public open space, just under 11% of the borough and only about 16 square metres of open space for each resident. Some of our parks, such as Mudchute, Mile End Park and Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park, contain fantastic wildlife habitats. Others are of much lower value, but the Council, with support form local park users, is working to improve the habitats in many more parks.
Rivers and standing water
Tower Hamlets is defined on its southern and eastern boundaries by rivers – the Thames and the Lea. The Thames and the tidal section of the Lea, known as Bow Creek, have ribbons of mudflats exposed at low tide. These are important feeding grounds for waterfowl, ducks and waders. The rivers are also important for fish, and there has even been an otter seen in recent years. The other large water bodies in the borough are legacies of an industrial and trading past – the canals and docks. For more information on the history and wildlife of the docks and canals, see the canals and docks page. There are also numerous small ponds in parks, schools and private gardens. These are home to amphibians and aquatic insects such as dragonflies. Creating a pond is one of the best ways to attract wildlife to your garden – see the wildlife gardening section for more details.
The built environment in Tower Hamlets has expanded and intensified greatly in the last 20 years, and a lot more growth in homes and jobs is proposed for the next few years. This growth has been largely at the expense of brownfield sites where sparse, flower-rich “wasteland” vegetation had developed, supporting rare invertebrates and birds such as the black redstart. However, buildings can support wildlife too. Walls and other built structures can support plants such as ivy, ferns, mosses, snapdragons and buddleia, which subsequently provide shelter and food for animals. Buildings may provide nesting and roosting places for birds and bats, and offer refuge to invertebrates. New buildings can be constructed to provide substantial habitats for wildlife. This includes features such as climber covered walls, built-in nesting opportunities, green roofs (which can help to replace the lost brownfield habitat) and the use of rainwater from roofs to create wetlands.